Since we last caught up with Frances (our incredible ambassador who is Beelining to Mongolia) she has crossed Europe's last frontier and ventured across relatively untravelled swathes of Central Asia.
She's blogging her way across and chronicles her ride, route, the history of the areas that she passes and her hilarious encounters with everything and everyone from ant armies to camels to aspiring Uzbek-Korean pop stars.
Her account of life in the remote wildernesses of the 'Stans is as intriguing as her photos are beautiful. We've put together a very brief summary of her last few thousand kilometres in the saddle.
Last time we caught up with Frances she was speeding her way across the vast expanse that is Turkey. Long solo stretches through the mountains were as tough physically as they were mentally as Frances battled her way into huge headwinds and past harassing men.
Making it to Georgia, Frances joined forces again with Jan (her cycling companion for her first few days from Brussels) and officially arrived in Central Asia. 2500km later and the pedalling pair at about to hit the Silk Road at Dushanbe, Tajikistan. They've just mapped out their next 2000km through the mountains with 26,000m of ascent. That's from sea level to the top of Mount Everest three times over!
But first...what have they seen since the last update?
Leaving Turkey, Frances criss-crossed through Georgia and Armenia; passing farming villages and spectacular gorges as she hopped from ancient fortress to ancient fortress.
Having met as planned in Tbilisi, Jan and Frances set off together across Azerbaijan to catch a ferry across the Caspian Sea.
Making a Beeline for Baku, they crossed gorgeously lush hillsides. Favourable winds helped them to make good progress and Azerbaijan saw Frances and her beautiful bike Penelope achieve new PBs in speed (69.14km/h downhill into Baku) and distance (181.9km in one day). Chapeau!
They found friendly Azerbaijanis - including several lovely families in one village who fought over which one would get to host Jan and Frances for the night - and one speedy Brit in Baku who managed to win the Grand Prix (well done Lewis).
Arriving at the port in Baku, they bought tickets for the ferry. Unbeknownst to them, the ferries across the Caspian appear to run on rather haphazard schedules and Jan and Frances found themselves camping at the port for five days before the next one came along. There they met some other cyclists and overland tourers and the travellers passed the time with ukelele singalongs and games of Risk.
Finally, at 2am one morning they were able to board a cargo ship that was making it journey to Aktau and, three days later, arrived on Kazakhstani shores.
After 8 days out of the saddle, Frances and Jan were both itching to get back in it and were thrilled to get their wheels rolling again. And so began their crossing of the Kyzylkum desert. Spanning three countries and 300,000 square kilometres, the Kyzylkum (Turkish for 'red sand') is the world's sixteenth largest and rises no more than 300m with dips below sea level. Aside from navigating atrociously pot-hole ridden roads, the biggest challenge is a mental one: cycling hundreds of kilometres day after day and not seeing much change.
In fact, one of the few things that changes is the wind, and Frances described a 'Wheel of Fortune' of directions each day. Would it be southwesterly? Easterly? The occasional canyon helped to mix things up a bit too!
Kazakhstan turned into Uzbekistan as the pair pressed onwards - stopping to carry as much water as they could at each market town along the otherwise empty road. Arriving in the towns of Nukus and Khiva provided the welcome sight of trees and greenery and stunning tiled architecture. And, of course, a break from the saddle for bruised bottoms that had done far too much bouncing along very bumpy roads! With visas quickly running out Frances and Jan did a hop, skip and a jump with a bit of petrol power to trade the monotony of the desert for the vibrant colours of Bukhara and Samarkand.
Now reaching the Tajik border, Frances and Jan had a big decision to make: take on the challenge of the Pamir Mountains or take a much quicker alternative route? They had been debating the pros and cons of each option for weeks but hadn't quite consciously made a decision when one turn at a junction took them in the direction of Dushanke and set them on a course...along the Pamir highway.
They'll climb, and climb, and climb some more...and they will be rewarded with some truly incredible views.
We're so excited to adventure vicariously through Jan and Frances along the Pamir highway over the next few weeks. Go check out Frances' blog and Instagram to follow along...and check back here in a month or so for the next instalment. Allez!